Saving room The Barrymore is a throwback to old-school gourmet rooms, but the flavors live in the now
The restaurants of the Block 16 Hospitality Group are casual, bold American eateries with obvious mass appeal – the all-encompassing burger universe of Holsteins in the Cosmopolitan, the rambunctious LBS Burger in Red Rock Resort and the iconic L.A. transplant Pink’s at Planet Hollywood. They’re successful, too. But the company’s latest offering starts down a different path, one flanked with creativity and admiration for old Vegas.
The Barrymore in the renovated Royal Resort is cool, clever and quiet, and that’s the way they want it.
“It’s really a pet project for me,” says Billy Richardson, Block 16 partner. “It’s a small place, it’s not in a big casino or a big building on the Strip. It kind of makes me think about places like Nora’s or Rosemary’s.”
It seems odd to compare a flashy joint just off the Strip to those suburban standards, so he explains deeper: “In the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and really, even into the ’80s and ’90s in Las Vegas, casinos basically had one coffee shop, one buffet, and one gourmet room. That room was where you take your wife or girlfriend, or your friends if you want to impress them. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Richardson is a third-generation native, and has a pretty good grasp on what is and isn’t Las Vegas. He’s worked in nightlife and restaurants with the biggest and best in this town, so if he wants to indulge in a pet project, sounds good to me. When I finally got a glimpse of the Barrymore, with its sleek bar, old Hollywood décor, two small dining rooms, and patio space complete with fire wall, it seemed to be the perfect Vegas restaurant.
Taking a seat in an enormous blue booth — so big there are only six in the more intimate of the two rooms — and admiring the film reel-bedazzled ceiling and Rorschach ink blot artwork, I realized just how much of a pet project this is.
In his research on old casino gourmet rooms, Richardson discovered Barrymore’s in the original MGM Grand, what is now Bally’s. “I saw that logo and that name and just knew it was right for this.” He browsed through the menu, and tons of others, getting inspired by the memory of Duck a l’Orange, Chateaubriand and other extinct dishes. He knew his culinary team, led by the machine-like executive chef Anthony Meidenbauer, would bring new life to the classics. “We are re-creating something that’s been forgotten. What is Vegas, if it’s not great experiences? We want to get back to that.”
I went back to the Barrymore for dinner. In the evening, seeing the Royal Resort’s stylish lobby bar packed with people, I better understood how well the restaurant fits into the building, which has been around since the early 1960s. Authentic Entertainment Properties took over the resort earlier this year and installed a retro-artsy feel. Now open and attracting neighboring conventioneers for all three meals, the Barrymore should develop into the big draw for the building.
This is tiny and cuisine-oriented, and Meidenbauer loves that.
“To be able to do whatever I want with the food is exciting and fun,” he says. I order two of the appetizers he recommends, grilled octopus and Vitello Tonnato. The octopus is amazingly tender, and the roast veal loin dish – one of the throwback Vegas dishes the kitchen prepares in its traditional way – is totally satisfying, paper-thin slices of meat drenched in crème fraiche and oily Spanish tuna sauce. It’s a crazy time-traveling bite. People used to eat food like this. But most start their dinner here with a classic Caesar or the lobster deviled eggs with caviar.
After sampling a salad of Bibb lettuce and hearts of palm in a dressing much more savory and substantial than its description of champagne vinaigrette, I eat the Barrymore steakhouse burger, on a fresh-baked English muffin bun with bacon marmalade and Gruyére cheese, and then adoringly devour beautifully braised short ribs. The meat floats on a cloud of carrot mousseline, kind of a vegetable whipped cream that I would like in a big bowl for dessert, with pickled pearl onions on the side.
The Barrymore is aiming directly for that right-now-Vegas sweet spot, providing the expected escapism for tourists balanced with enough hip and hype to attract the food-and-cocktail happy local crowd.
“We are geared toward locals,” Richardson says. He knows we will hit a near-Strip location as long as it brings the goods. “Right now, if you look at what’s happening downtown, people are finding things in that area and coming back because they don’t want it to go away.” His respect and appreciation of downtown’s resurgence is reflected in his creation of the Barrymore, a true urban eatery for his city.
The Barrymore inside The Royal Resort
99 Convention Center Drive,